When John Kerry lost to George Bush in 2004 there was a great deal of talk about how Kerry managed to lose, centering on the quite questionable vote in Ohio, but then becoming more generalized – talk of Kerry’s aloofness, or his goofy looks, or how he just couldn’t be seen as a man of the people, what with his fabulously wealthy wife and far too much education, experience and arcane knowledge (and he spoke flawless French) – and of course there was his tedious reasonableness. And too, he wasn’t an evangelical, chattering away about how he’d been born again. He just wasn’t exciting, or that particularly alarming – neither side had much to work with. His running mate, John Edwards, wasn’t much better – a former trial lawyer with great hair and a slick smile, but a man who made many a bit uncomfortable no matter how passionately he argued his rather sensible positions. Suddenly you felt wary – you patted your back pocket to check your wallet. Edwards might have been part of the reason Kerry lost – a drag on the ticket. People talked about such things.
And then all the post-election chatter faded away. But for Democratic strategists, no one much thought about why what had happened had happened. There were four more years of Bush ahead. It didn’t seem important.
This time around is different. The Republicans, who lost, decisively, are not having a thoughtful discussion, one of those prescheduled lessons-learned sessions on what to do differently the next time. They’re having an internal civil war:
As a top adviser in Senator John McCain’s now-imploded campaign tells the story, it was bad enough that Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska unwittingly scheduled, and then took, a prank telephone call from a Canadian comedian posing as the president of France. Far worse, the adviser said, she failed to inform her ticketmate about her rogue diplomacy.
As a senior adviser in the Palin campaign tells the story, the charge is absurd. The call had been on Ms. Palin’s schedule for three days and she should not have been faulted if the McCain campaign was too clueless to notice.
Whatever the truth, one thing is certain. Ms. Palin, who laughingly told the prankster that she could be president “maybe in eight years,” was the catalyst for a civil war between her campaign and Mr. McCain’s that raged from mid-September up until moments before Mr. McCain’s concession speech on Tuesday night. By then, Ms. Palin was in only infrequent contact with Mr. McCain, top advisers said.
“I think it was a difficult relationship,” said one top McCain campaign official, who, like almost all others interviewed, asked to remain anonymous. “McCain talked to her occasionally.”
But Mr. McCain’s advisers also described him as admiring of Ms. Palin’s political skills. He was aware of the infighting, they said, but it is unclear how much he was inclined or able to stop it.
The tensions and their increasingly public airing provide a revealing coda to the ill-fated McCain-Palin ticket, hinting at the mounting turmoil of a campaign that was described even by many Republicans as incoherent, negative and badly run.
My, my – Kerry and Edwards got along during the campaign, and after. This Elisabeth Bumiller item in the New York Times is brutal. And four years ago, no one was calling anyone names:
Newsweek has also learned that Palin’s shopping spree at high-end department stores was more extensive than previously reported. While publicly supporting Palin, McCain’s top advisers privately fumed at what they regarded as her outrageous profligacy… An angry aide characterized the shopping spree as “Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast,” and said the truth will eventually come out when the Republican Party audits its books.
The Democrats can step back. These folks are flaming each other, with the classic being what was reported by Fox News’ Carl Cameron:
There was great concern in the McCain campaign that Sarah Palin lacked the degree of knowledgeability necessary to be a running mate, a vice president, and a heartbeat away from the presidency. We’re told by folks that she didn’t know what countries were in NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, that being Canada, the US, and Mexico. We’re told that she didn’t understand that Africa was a continent rather than a country just in itself. A whole host of questions that caused serious problems about her knowledgeability. She got very angry at staff, thought that she was mishandled, was particularly angry about the way the Katie Couric interview went. She didn’t accept preparation for that interview when the aides say that that was part of the problem. And that there were times where she was hard to control emotionally. There’s talk of temper tantrums at bad news clippings.
That’s all very interesting, and a bit pathetic, but there was something else going on with what Cameron was saying – that he and many in the press had known of all this for weeks, but as his sources had told him all this on the condition that he not report it, unless and until the McCain-Palin ticket lost.
So it seems Cameron faced a choice – burn his source and report, for the good of the nation, that even the Republicans knew this woman wasn’t fit for office and, with McCain’s age and health record, could be president soon and have no idea what was going on, how things worked, or even where things were, or sit on the story, protecting his source in order to get more amazing and important inside stuff in the future. If he ran the story, well, that source would never give him anything again.
Cameron sat on the story. So one of the things we misunderstand about the press is that sometimes they do withhold information of vital importance – facts we really do need to know, immediately – in order that they not lose access to information of vital importance we would, one day, need immediately. If they break their word to their source they lose what makes their career possible – their ability to find out what is really going on – and might just as well be reporting morning traffic conditions in Tulsa.
Andrew Sullivan is not pleased:
They kept taking Palin seriously as a VP candidate when she didn’t come close to even minimal standards for passing a citizenship test. I’m sorry but I think this is a terrible failing, and it is a reason the mainstream media are imploding. They let the rules of the game overrule their duty to tell the American people the truth as they began to discover it. The truth is that Sarah Palin had no business whatever being on a national ticket. It was an insanely reckless choice. She could never adequately perform the job of president at a moment’s notice, and the McCain campaign and their media enablers were putting this country and the world at serious risk by perpetuating this farce.
It was a farce. And it was a potential threat to national security if anything happened to McCain in office.
The press does not see its duty the same way as Sullivan sees it. He seems to think the press is there to reveal the truth behind things. They may do that now and then, but it’s always more complicated than that.
Still, Sullivan claims the McCain camp was even worse:
… they couldn’t admit a mistake because it would have killed their campaign, destroying our impression of McCain’s judgment and management skills. So they kept this farce alive for two months, putting the country at potentially great risk to massage their own careers.
Now they are doing all they can to dump on her. But the dumpage goes both ways. The McCain camp picked Palin and stuck with her far longer than any people who put country first would have. Every reason why she should not have been picked is a reason why McCain should never have been president.
Of course Palin’s cluelessness about much of anything might not be a bug, but rather a feature. Daniel Larison explores that:
The claim that she didn’t know Africa was a continent is the sort of thing that almost sounds as if it belongs to a caricature of a person who knows nothing, but it seems remotely possible that it is true. Americans’ knowledge of world geography is notoriously poor, which does not excuse it in this case if true, but neither is it all that far-fetched. The troubling thing is that I get the sinking feeling that a lot of people who want her to become the future of the party couldn’t care less about this.
So another misunderstanding – the remaining Republicans, the rump as they say, does not much care for knowing things. It’s not that the emphasis is on having core values that never change and acting on gut instinct. That’s not the emphasis. That’s all there is, as Larison explains:
I can almost hear some dedicated pundits rehearsing the next defense, “Well, how many people understand that Africa is a continent? Do we expect our elected officials to understand the conventions originally invented by ancient geographers? Besides, technically, Africa is attached to the landmass of Asia and so you can see why she might have been hesitant to identify it that way.”
A more aggressive defense might say, “Who cares about Africa? Palin is interested in helping this country.”
The claim about NAFTA seems hard to believe: how could a governor of Alaska not know which countries were involved in this agreement? Then again, this tends to confirm everything we have come to know about her lack of interest in policy details. These claims about her are so bizarre and yet specific that it is hard to dismiss them outright.
O’Reilly said that the news that she needed education on civics past a sixth grade level was “nit-picking.” Her selection was a bigger scandal than the press reported. They deserve a shellacking for their cowardice and incompetence.
Was the press cowardly and incompetent? They still have their exclusive sources. No one else does.
And the story going forward will be the rise of the Palin Republicans, not the sometimes unpredictably reasonable Republicans like McCain once was, or the Weekly Standard, National Review grand theorists, but those who have no patience with or use for conservatives who look back at history and want to know things and know where things are and who is who elsewhere.
Some Republicans resist the Palin rise, as you see here:
“It is a problem for Republicans. As they continue to cater to their culturally conservative rural base, they continue to alienate educated voters,” said Rep. Tom Davis, who is retiring and whose Fairfax County district was taken over by the Democrats on Tuesday. “The suburban vote is steadily slipping away, and the party’s trying to ignore it and pretend it’s not happening.”
But the Palin movement doesn’t need such folks messing things up.
George Will is just depressed:
Although John McCain’s loss was not as numerically stunning as the 1964 defeat of Barry Goldwater, who won 16 fewer states and 122 fewer electoral votes than McCain seems to have won as of this writing, Tuesday’s trouncing was more dispiriting for conservatives. Goldwater’s loss was constructive; it invigorated his party by reorienting it ideologically. McCain’s loss was sterile, containing no seeds of intellectual rebirth.
Maybe that was the whole point. After eight years of the gut-instinct and proudly incurious George Bush, you’d think Will would get it.
Some do get it. Over at the National Review, see John Derbyshire:
I supported George W. Bush in 2000 because I thought he had a conservative bone in his body somewhere. I supported him in 2004 because I thought him the lesser of two evils. At this point, I wouldn’t let the fool park his car in my driveway.
There will be no room in the new Republican Party for John Derbyshire.
Out here on the West Coast, Digby gets it:
I mentioned this before, but with the cable news networks all breathlessly reporting that Sarah W. Palin is a moron – and people like Chris Matthews now opining that anyone who isn’t smart can’t possibly be president – I feel it’s necessary to point out that being a moron is something the Republicans and the media have shown a rather remarkable tolerance for up until now:
She quotes this:
Q: What do you think of tribal sovereignty means in the 21st century, and how can we resolve conflicts between tribes and federal and state governments?
Bush: Yeah… yeah, tribal sovereignty means that, sovereign. You’re a… you’re a… you’ve been given sovereignty and you’re… viewed as a sovereign entity. (laughter) And therefore, the relationship between the federal government and the tribes is one between sovereign entities.
That man had been president for nearly four years at that point and was about to be reelected. I don’t recall anyone but a bunch of scruffy bloggers having a problem with the fact that he clearly didn’t have a fucking clue what sovereignty even meant – and was nation- building in Iraq at that very moment.
And she likes this one:
Q: You talk about the general threat toward Americans. You know, the Internet is crowded with all sorts of rumor and gossip and, kind of, urban myths. And people ask, what is it they’re supposed to be on the lookout for? Other than the 22 most wanted terrorists, what are Americans supposed to look for and report to the police or to the FBI?
A: Well, Ann, you know, if you find a person that you’ve never seen before getting in a crop duster that doesn’t belong to you – report it.
Seriously. Entire books have been written devoted to the stupid things that this man has said as president. He’s an idiot.
So is Sarah Palin, (which is why I’ve always called her Sarah W. Palin) but please, these gasbags helped create the myth that to be president all you need was a “gut” and an attitude and the real Americans didn’t want some smarty pants, egghead for a leader. To act as though they believe that being intelligent is some sort of requirement for high office is just bullshit.
Okay, that’s somewhat the opposite of what Sullivan was saying. Sullivan posits the idea the press would finally be doing its duty if, like Chris Matthews now, the press would go on a rant about how actually knowing things is really, really, really important. Digby suspects that Matthews, at least, doesn’t believe that for a moment:
MATTHEWS: We’re proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical, who’s not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like Dukakis or Mondale, all those guys, McGovern. They want a guy who’s president. Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple. We’re not like the Brits. We don’t want an indoor prime minister type, or the Danes or the Dutch or the Italians, or a Putin. Can you imagine Putin getting elected here? We want a guy as president.
Yep, don’t expect much from the press, or at least from the pundits and the chat shows. They say what they say, for their own reasons, no one else’s.
And whatever Matthews says now about the importance of knowing basic facts, things are moving the other way. Red State’s Erik Erikson is planning a purge of those who criticize Sarah Plain in any way:
RedState is pleased to announce it is engaging in a special project: Operation Leper.
We’re tracking down all the people from the McCain campaign now whispering smears against Governor Palin to Carl Cameron and others. Michelle Malkin has the details.
We intend to constantly remind the base about these people, monitor who they are working for, and, when 2012 rolls around, see which candidates hire them. Naturally then, you’ll see us go to war against those candidates.
Bring it on. Nothing could be better for the Democrats – unless they too decide stupid is both noble and good, and often charming. It is a common enough misunderstanding.
And there are many misunderstandings, like all the talk about how odd it is that some rich and successful people seem to have voted for Obama, which, given his tax policies, is simply not in their interest.
Digby also examines that one:
People who have money are like everyone else in that they come in all sizes and political persuasions. But they often have the luxury of looking beyond their immediate personal needs to the bigger picture and I think many of them realize that their comfortable life depends upon maintaining a stable society where there isn’t horrible poverty, where the infrastructure is modern and working, and where crime isn’t rampant and where their kids can breathe clean air. These are things they cannot pay for as individuals and are willing to kick in, in order to insure that the nice life they have, and their children will likely have, continues.
If they are entirely rational in their thinking, they can even sit down and run a spreadsheet which gives them a cost benefit analysis of those broad social expenses and they’ll realize that they come out far ahead. The more instinctive among them just know that they don’t want to live in place that isn’t fair, tolerant and decent and they are willing to pay a share of their comfortable incomes to make that more likely.
She considers the Ayn Rand folks, with what she calls their pseudo-libertarian “self-interest” arguments, oddly foolish:
It’s in your “self-interest” to live in a well functioning society – and that requires an organizing principle and community action like government to achieve. The only argument against taxation that really makes any sense is the one that says government is somehow intrinsically incapable of doing anything right. In a country that was founded on democracy, there’s something about that which doesn’t scan very well – after all, we are the ones who choose the government. It’s an indictment of the people themselves.
But then that argument has been made, from Goldwater and Reagan forward – the government, the agreed upon notion of what can and should be done for the common good, is the problem, as it can never really do anything right.
The only way you can persuade a majority to ignore their collective interest in ensuring a decent community is to stroke their tribal lizard brains into believing that their money is going to help an “enemy” rather than their own. That’s why it has worked so well in racist societies.
For those government helps directly, whether it’s through educational opportunities or unemployment insurance or health care for their kids and elderly parents, the benefits are obvious. But there’s nothing unusual about financially comfortable people also being willing to pay for a decent society in which to live and work and bring up their kids. The unnatural ones are those who think they can live a good life without contributing to such things. Apparently, they think they can live inside a castle and pull up the drawbridge behind them, leaving all the ugliness outside. And that is the perfect, time tested recipe for revolution. It’s not exactly the smart move for the long haul.
But it is a common misunderstanding – a revolution pops up now and then.
It has been an odd presidential campaign, one with lots of misunderstandings.
In fact, there was John McCain himself. John Weaver, one of John McCain’s closest friends and confidants, was, in the end, just puzzled:
“If you had told me two years ago that John McCain would end his active national political life perceived by many as the candidate of the special interests tied to lobbyists; that many people considered his campaign dishonorable and focused on small things; that he wasn’t seen as presidential and the right person to have in a crisis; and that the broad center in American politics had turned against him, I would have laughed in your face,” Weaver said. “That’s not who he is. But that’s the campaign that he chose.”
But that is how things did turn out.
Of course you hear both sides were awful this time. That may also be a misunderstanding. See John Aravosis:
After eight years of having Republicans call me an un-American troop-hating fag-loving socialist, after months of John McCain embracing the hate to a level where his own supporters were calling out for Barack Obama to be assassinated, no one is going to be permitted to tell me with a straight face that “oh you know, both sides do it.”
Your side was abominable. Your side was hateful. Your side race-baited. Your side gay-baited. Your side lied like we’ve never seen in recent presidential campaign history. Your side used a tax-cheat who would do better under Obama’s tax proposal to be your everyman on the issue of taxes. Your side, in a veiled effort at race-baiting, said Obama doesn’t put his country first. Your side had the audacity to call Obama a socialist. Your side suggested he was a Muslim. Your side suggested he was a terrorist. Your side suggested he was Osama bin Laden.
Spare me the crap about how both sides do it. You people are a disgrace, you’ve been a disgrace for eight long years, and all your hate and lying and venom and vitriol finally bit you in your collective fat ass.
Also see “dday” here:
The effort to raise John McCain’s reputation from the dead has already begun. He’ll give a TV appearance where he’ll rend his garments and bat his eyes and talk about how sorrowful he was to see what his campaign perpetrated. And everyone in the Village will try to fall in line. It’s as predictable as the conservatives who will immediately blame President Obama for not fixing the economy come January 22nd (they’ll give him a one-day honeymoon).
Enough. You show your true character when put under the spotlight. John McCain showed his, and proved himself willing to go to any lengths to extend the glory to which he feels entitled. I’m not particularly interested in letting bygones be bygones. The Democratic nominee got multiple threats on his life as the anger of McCain-Palin rallies reached a fever pitch.
McCain will have to live with himself. …
And see Matthew Yglesias here:
McCain’s not a young man who can learn his lesson and do better next time. In 2000, he ran a high-toned campaign as long as it suited him, and then endorsed the Confederate Flag when he thought that’s what he had to do to win. When he lost, he “atoned.” Then in 2008, he went through the whole rotten cycle again. A man who violates the dictates of his honor whenever it’s convenient, and apologizes for doing so only after his opportunistic gambits fail, is not a man of honor at all.
Yes, McCain was misunderstood – not that it matters much now. So many misunderstandings, so little time.